A Journey into a Last Fine Time

The Last Fine Time is a novel written in the early 1990s by Verlyn Klinkenborg. The story takes place in Buffalo, New York. The author tells a story of his father-in-law who inherited a restaurant in 1947 and transformed it from a neighborhood watering hole into a swinging night spot at a time growing postwar prosperity. By the end of the 1960s the prosperity began to wane, the regulars began to move into the suburbs, and the upheavals convulsing the rest of the country reached the old neighborhood. The restaurant closed. The last fine time had come to an end.

In August 1982 I landed in Finland during a period that since has been remembered as a last fine time. According to opinion polls such as one by the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation in 2013 , Finns see the 1980s as the best decade to have lived in. This sentiment is not without a factual basis. Unemployment was much lower in the 1980s than in the late 1970s or any time after after the 1980s. The strong Finnish mark made foreign travel not only affordable but outright profitable. If you were short on money for a month in Spain, a bank would gladly loan you the money. The Soviet Union cast a slowly decreasing shadow over the country. Many who had left Finland in the late 1960s for Sweden in search of work were now returning.

The city in which I would spend the next year, Ylivieska, embodied the decade. At the time of my arrival, public buildings from city hall to the library to the swim hall had been built within the last ten years or so. Much of the single-family housing was also new. This city of some 12,000 inhabitants had commercial air service. The only sign of centuries of habitation was the august white church from the late eighteenth century. The church succumbed to arson in 2016.

Of course, in popular memory decades later the prosperity of the era has been even more exaggerated and the difficulties of the era forgotten. Finns longing for the 1980s certainly would not want to return to buying alcohol from state-run stores in which one had to line up at a counter and tell a sales person what one wanted. Taxes were higher. Towing the official line toward the Soviet Union was still a requirement for many for advancement. Life was good if one fit in the very homogenous cultural norms of the time.

More on the roaring eighties and its crash and burn in later entries.

Why this blog?

I am writing this for two reasons. First, I have reached a point in my life where I have accumulated enough experience about Finland that I want to write them down in order to make sense of my own Finnish past. Historians aim to master the past. Here I want to try to master my past experiences. Since August 1982 I have lived and worked in Finland on an off. I have witnessed a country that has gone through significant changes. Despite Finland’s reputation as a stable country, many of the institutions and operating assumptions that existed in 1982 no longer exist. In less than twenty years after 1982 the country’s official foreign policy became obsolete, Finland joined the European Union, the euro replaced the mark as the country’s currency, a woman of African ancestry was chosen Miss Finland, and the country elected an unchurched, unmarried woman president of the republic. Nokia went from being known for making toilet paper and tires to becoming synonymous with mobile telephones.  All of these changes were inconceivable in 1982. In the last twenty years Finland has seen the end of Nokia as a mobile phone giant. The growth of the far right on the last decade has achieved levels of support that the far left had in 1982. A country that has been identified as a world’s happiest is dealing with growing problems of income inequality, declines in education, and unexamined xenophobia toward a growing population of immigrant background.

The second goal of this blog is to give historical analyses to current problems. For some blog entries, I envision giving a history of the present. I hope that in pursuing both aims readers might find useful insights. Many of the entries will be drawn from the everyday.

For those who want to read yet another account of a foreigner expressing awe about an “exotic” country will be disappointed. I do not consider Finland exotic or inscrutable. I do consider it interesting enough to have kept my attention for most of my life.